Chelsea 1-2 Palace
Crystal Palace made it back to back wins at Stamford Bridge courtesy of a resolute display against the league leaders. Chelsea, boasting a run of 13 straight wins in the Premier League at home, took the lead as early as the fifth minute when Cesc Fabregas converted Eden Hazard’s centre via the post. The world expected a routine victory to follow for the Champions elect – instead, the response from the visitors stunned everyone.
Wilfried Zaha fired low past Courtois through a crowd of blue shirts just four minutes later before the winger released Christian Benteke just ninety seconds later. The big Belgian sat down his international teammate between the sticks for the hosts and lifted an audacious chip into the back of the net. “Is this an April fools?” asked hundreds of Chelsea fans across all social media platforms.
With Sam Allardyce in charge of the Eagles, it was clear that “shut up shop” tactics would be employed, with the luxury of Zaha and Andros Townsend’s pace on the break. For the duration of the first half, Antonio Conte’s men laid siege to the Palace goal, but Wayne Hennessey was not to be beaten again, notably excelling to deny Diego Costa from seven yards out.
There is no doubt, despite Townsend saying on Twitter that it was “ball to hand”, that Chelsea should have had a first-half penalty. The Palace winger leant into a shot and deflected the ball wide with his arm.
The second half followed the same pattern as the latter stages of the first, but as they host’s began to overcommit bodies forward in their quest for an equaliser, gaps started to appear in Chelsea’s back line. Only a great save from Courtois denied Zaha a second goal after a free-flowing counter attack.
At the other end, for all of Chelsea’s huff and puff, Hennessey was never stretched as much as he was in the first forty-five. The closest the home side came to levelling the match was through a Costa header that landed the right side of the post, as far as Palace are concerned, although the Spain international had to foul Mamadou Sakho to fashion the chance.
Zaha had another chance to put the game to bed late on, but his effort would flash just over.
The away end had to suffer close to ten minute of stoppage time due to Scott Dann’s injury, which looks set to rule him out for the rest of the season, but Chelsea were a spent force, and a huge roar from one corner of Stamford Bridge greeted another famous victory.
In the Chelsea Fanzine, cfcuk, the Sheditor (see what they’ve done there) in the introduction to issue 185 said: “I hope that any success that does come to this team does not eventually lead to a state of complacency amongst the Chelsea supporters.” Well, they appear to have failed already at that.
Don’t get me wrong, when Fabregas made it 1-0 after just four minutes and twenty seconds; I feared the worst. But the Chelsea fans were boarding on arrogance with the way that they cheered the first goal. It screamed (quietly) of ‘well that is this game won already.’ They politely clapped and patted each other on the back, and their minds started to wander to the next fixture. The same can be said for the players on the pitch.
I thought that for most the 90 minutes, Chelsea were excellent. It is not hard to see why they are top of the league, however, for the few moments that existed before we scored the equaliser, they started to stroll around the field almost in exhibition mode. Pedro’s attempted ball to Matic stunk of perceived superiority and to see Joel Ward intercept it, pass it to Benteke and then for Wilf to so comprehensively bury Courtois was a thing of beauty.
To be honest, seeing them start Pedro at wing back gave me a little bit of encouragement before kick-off. I expected Wilf to play on the left and thought that he would easily be able to expose the Spaniard. When the teams line up, it was clear that it was going to be Townsend up against him and he struggled all afternoon, which enabled us to stretch Chelsea on the break as their shape was often not right at the defensive end.
Chris Kamara said of the penalty appeal for Townsend’s handball on Goals on Sunday: “Perhaps Chelsea didn’t appeal so much as they knew that they were going to score again anyway.”
There is nothing quite like knocking arrogance down a few pegs.
The International Break
I think that as a group of fans that often bemoan the international break, we should reconsider. Benteke has come up woefully short in front of goal in recent weeks, but heads off to play for Belgium, scores a brace and returns to score with a finish that any player in the world would be proud. I doubt that he would have had the confidence to attempt that before the international break.
Then there is Wilf’s wonder goal for the Ivory Coast. It has injected even more confidence into his veins and for the first time, he produced against big opposition in the Premier League. Before this match, the only “top” side he’d scored against was Liverpool.
Meanwhile, Neil Curtis said on the Sunday Supplement that Wilfried Zaha needs to be more consistent and not just scores goals on the big occasions. Aside from the fact that this is only the second time that he has scored on a “big occasion” in the Premier League, what is scoring against Hull, West Brom, Swansea (twice), etc. Are those big occasions?
Honestly, he can’t win either way.
Man of the Match: Wayne Hennessey
Wayne had one of those afternoons where his body was like a magnet for the ball. He didn’t produce anything spectacular, but he was in the right place a lot of the time – and that is the secret to being a good goalkeeper. Making 10 saves and even managing to earn the Man of the Match award on Whoscored.com, something that is notoriously hard to do as a keeper on that site, means that it is hard for me not to give it to him.
For as good as Sakho, Zaha and Benteke were as well, Yohan Cabaye’s brilliant afternoon appears to have gone unnoticed. He led the game in tackles (4) and interceptions (5) as well as completing 85% of his passes. He was a constant menace in the middle of the park and fully deserves a mention.
Up Next: Southampton
If we beat Southampton 3-0 on Wednesday night, we could move as high as 10th in the league. That is mental when considering the state we were in a few weeks ago. Of course, I don’t expect to go there and win in such convincing fashion, but I do believe that we have a decent chance of levelling our Premier League record of 5 straight wins. It is basically 2013/14 all over again.
Come on you Palace!